The Royal Astronomical Society has welcomed the commitments made by UK and European ministers to support new space science and exploration programmes. At the European Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial Council meeting in Naples last week, ministers from the Agency's member states agreed a budget of €10 billion (£8 billion) for the years 2013-17.
The International Space Station, as seen from Space Shuttle Endeavour in May 2011. Credit: NASAThe UK financial contribution to Agency activities will rise by 30% to €1.5 billion (£1.2 billion) and for the first time British scientists and engineers will be involved in the European programme for LIfe and Physical sciences and applications utilising the international space Station (ELIPS). In a further signal of interest in human space exploration, the UK will also contribute to the ESA development of the propulsion unit for the NASA Orion spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to deep space targets from the 2020s.
Following the withdrawal of NASA from the ExoMars programme, ESA will now work with the Russian space agency to continue this project, which will see European robotic satellite and rover missions exploring the Red Planet by the end of this decade.
Prof. David Southwood, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: "This new investment by the UK is a clear and welcome sign of our commitment to space science and exploration. For many years British universities and research establishments have been instrumental in developing technology, carrying out cutting edge space science and astronomy and thereby training the men and women who work in the space industry here in the UK and across Europe. This world class expertise means they are well placed to take advantage of the strengthened commitment to space made by our own and the other ESA governments. I have no doubt that our scientists and engineers will rise to this challenge."
ESA Press Release: Ministerial Council 2012 (includes Council Resolutions)